Blue hour and snowfall!

This past Sunday morning, I woke up to a beautiful snowfall and luckily for me, about 10 minutes before the blue hour (which actually lasts less than an hour). I tiptoed down the stairs so I wouldn’t wake up my wife and child, put some clothes and shoes on, and because it was snowing heavily, I took my Canon 7D (my only weather-sealed camera), along with the 10-22mm EF-S lens (which is also weather-sealed). I wanted an ultra-wide perspective to the photos and also the ability to shoot without a tripod at low shutter speeds. An ultra-wide lens lets you do that because of the “reciprocal rule”: as long as the shutter speed matches the focal length, you should get a good photo (provided you have steady hands). A 10-22mm lens would let me use shutter speeds as low as 1/10th of a second, which is just what I did on some of the photos. Enjoy the gallery!

For those of you who love looking at camera gear (I know I do), here is a photo of the camera and lens I used.

Canon EOS 7D
Canon EOS 7D
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f:3.5-4.5 Lens
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f:3.5-4.5 Lens

A walk through town before daybreak

To celebrate the acquisition of a new camera (well, the acquisition is new, the camera isn’t), I took a pre-dawn walk through town. It was cold and somewhat rainy. Water got on my lens a couple of times and I’d forgotten to bring a lens cloth, so you’ll see some weird light artifacts on some of the photos. That’s from the partially wiped lens… I was hoping dawn would come soon and I’d get some nice photos of the “blue hour”. As it turned out, my battery ran out of juice and I got pretty cold before that happened. But it was really nice to walk through town with few to no people around me. I am after all an introvert, so the more time I spend alone, the better I feel.

I am quite pleased with my acquisition. It’s a camera I used and reviewed in the past (eight years ago, actually): the Olympus PEN E-P2. I loved that little camera and I should have bought it back then. After quietly pining for it all this time, I found it online a few days ago at an unbeatable price, second-hand, in great condition: about 100 euros for the body, plus another 100 euros for the viewfinder (yes, I got the VF-2!) and about 200 euros for a wonderful little lens for it, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ (it’s a 2x crop factor so a 24-100mm 35mm equivalent).

Now I have the E-P2 and the E-PL1, which I bought several years ago with the two kit lenses offered at the time, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. Yay!

I took the photos without a tripod, relying on the camera’s optical image stabilization technology, which shifts the sensor on a 3-way axis in order to keep the shot steady. I shot at 1/10, 1/15 and 1/20, keeping the ISO at 1600 and the aperture wide open. Given that the lens goes from f/3.5 to f/6.3 when it’s at its longest focal length, that means some of the photos are darker. I squeezed every bit of light out of them in post processing, but having shot both RAW and JPG simultaneously, I can tell you the camera’s built-in noise reduction and image processing is so good (for its time), I could have just shot directly in JPG and uploaded them SOOC (straight out of the camera). Enjoy the photos!

The fortress at Rasnov

There is a fortress near Brasov, built above a village-turned-town. It’s called Rasnov and it’s been there since early medieval times.

Râșnov citadel and village on the Josephine Map of Transylvania
Râșnov citadel and village on the Josephine Map of Transylvania

The citadel was built as part of a defence system for the Transylvanian villages exposed to outside invasions. A decisive aspect for building the citadel on the actual location was the route of the invading armies which were coming from the Bran pass and were passing through Râșnov on their way to Burzenland (Țara Bârsei). The only chance of survival for the inhabitants of the area, including the ones from the villages of Cristian and Ghimbav, was refuge inside the citadel. Compelled to stay there for decades, the people of Râșnov and the nearby villages turned the fortification into a dwelling.

Sources such as Wikipedia state that archaeological research revealed the existence of fortification traces on the citadel hill since prehistoric and Dacian times, but I have to say this is the case for virtually every town in Transilvania. At one spot or another in the city, archeologists will find traces of fortifications or houses that date way back to Dacian times or even earlier. Romania is an old country.

The medieval citadel we see today is considered to have been built between 1211-1225, during the rule of the Teutonic Knights in Burzenland. Although there is no written evidence for this, it makes sense historically.

In 1335, during a Tatar incursion that ravaged Burzenland, Râșnov and Brașov were the only citadels that remained unconquered. This is also the first documented attestation of the fortifications at Rasnov. In 1421, an Ottoman army laid siege to the citadel. In 1600, Michael the Brave along with his troops and his wife, Lady Stanca, retreated here after the defeat at the Battle of Mirăslău.

The citadel was conquered only once in 1612, during the rule of Prince Gabriel Báthory. The reason was the lack of water. While there was no well within the citadel walls, there was a path to a secret spring outside its walls, but this was discovered by the enemy troops. Without water, the siege quickly ended. An interior well was then dug inside the walls, directly in the rock bed, between 1623 and 1642. It is 146 metres (479 ft) deep.

In 1718 the citadel was partially destroyed by a fire and in 1802 it was damaged by an earthquake. In 1821 refugees from Wallachia (during the revolution led by Tudor Vladimirescu) retreated to the citadel. Between 1848-1849, because the region was constantly ravaged by Hungarian revolutionaries and Austrian imperial troops, the villagers retreated to the citadel. This was the last mission of the citadel as a place of refuge and defence. After those events ended, it was left to ruin, to be restored during the early 21st century.

We visited it in the summer of 2009. I hope you enjoy this gallery of photos I took there.

Țara lui Andrei at Bran Castle

This weekend, Ligia and I participated at an event called “Tabăra lui Andrei”, put together by the team at Țara lui Andrei. They organize these wonderful camps for underprivileged children every summer in the village of Bran, in order to provide training, employment opportunities and personal development courses for these children. Each camp lasts about a week, with teams of about 60 children brought in to learn how to grow into productive, well-balanced people who like what they do in life. They do miracles! Normally, you’d say you can’t do much with someone in a week, but you’d be surprised at the results they get!

This week’s camp was for chefs and waiters. At the end of the week, after a lot of on-the-job intensive training and motivational seminars, they organized, cooked and served a three-course meal to a group of Romanian celebrities, notables and government officials invited to attend the dinner party.

We, the dinner guests, were treated to a wonderful event and were blown away by the professionalism of these children of high-school age. The evening started with appetizers, continued with a private tour of Bran Castle and culminated with this special dinner, served in the newly opened Castle Tea House.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the good people at Țara lui Andrei for the amazing, life-changing work they’re doing and for the impact they have on the lives of these children who get to see life through a different lens, even if only for a little while, and then get employment opportunities and a chance at a better life. I’m so proud that this kind of work is going on in Romania!

I also made a video where I talked a little more about this, and there’s a photo gallery here as well.

Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului

Ligia and I were in attendance at a wonderful event last night, organized by the good folks from Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului, a medieval fortress whose construction began in 1310 and continued through various repairs and improvements well into the 1630s.

It goes without saying that I love medieval fortresses and castles. I feel right at home whenever I visit one. I loved the architecture here, the various tunnels and cellars that run under its walls, the beautiful, grandiose rooms and hallways but most of all and perhaps a little odd, the window encasements which were made of carved stone. They were so beautifully and delicately made and were perfect for the style of the castle.

We got there a little before the entertainment started. Being there ahead of time gave us the opportunity to explore the castle and take some photos, which you’ll get to see here. The evening’s festivities involved wine and champagne tastings, hors d’oeuvres, some networking, a ceremony celebrating those who are doing good things in Romania (Ligia was among those who were feted) and a concert in the castle’s inner courtyard.

I also shot some 360° video with my Giroptic camera (it’s embedded below and may not display properly in certain browsers like Safari on a Mac). I have to apologize for its quality. While the novelty of this kind of video kind of makes up for the camera’s technical inability to record proper HD video, it’s not enough to recommend it. And when you hear the bad sound recorded with its microphones, you’re even more put off. Again, sorry… If any of you know how to improve the quality of the video captured with this camera, please let me know.

But enough whining! The event was great, the champagne and the wine were great and the castle was amazing! We loved it! One of the people we got to meet was Mrs. Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Office at United Nations (you’ll see her in one of the photos with Ligia) and you should have seen my face when she said she knew me and liked my show, Romania Through Their Eyes… 😳

Thank you Adriana and Rob for putting this wonderful shindig together!

First snowfall of 2016

One of the first things I feel in the morning is my daughter kissing me on the face and whispering “Daddy…”, usually followed by a request for food or cartoons or playtime. She’s our alarm clock, whether we like it or not, though I have to say, no matter how tired I am, waking up to a little angel giving me a kiss and calling me daddy is a pretty good way to start the day.

Yesterday morning, even though I’d worked till 2 am and she was waking me up at 7 am, I got up and took her in my arms and started walking together toward her playroom. I looked casually out the kitchen window and (this happens every year) let out a “Yoo-hoo!” because the first snowfall of the winter had already covered our yard. Sophie did the same — after all, she wants to be like her daddy — and we both giggled as we looked out the windows at the pure, little ice crystals coming down in a hurry.

Still, I needed my sleep, so I got a fire going in her playroom, got her some food and shuffled back to bed. By the time I got up again, the snow was still falling, albeit in less of a hurry, and blustery winter winds had begun to blow. You know the kind, the chill goes right to your bones and makes you shiver no matter how many clothes you have on you.

After breakfast, I had to grab a camera and go out to photograph the snowfall. It had started coming down a little heavier again and this was a chance not to be missed, in spite of the cold weather.

I did just that. The streets were mostly deserted, which is just the way I like it, although the tracks of hurried morning traffic were visible in the snow. It was odd weather. The warmer ground had turned the freshly fallen snow to slush and yet high winds were blowing down, carrying more snow from up above and spreading it everywhere. It was not a good time to walk around with a camera in hand. My fingers began to slowly freeze and become unresponsive. I’d forgotten how this felt. A warm summer will do that to you. My nose and ears seemed to be in a parallel plane where the sensations consisted mostly of prickly pins being shot at them. The cold started creeping up my legs and in spite of the old saying that goes something like “I’m freezing my a** out here…” it wasn’t my derriere that was suffering, it was my kidneys. Weird stuff…

Anyway, I persisted, walked throughout the historic district and photographed what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos. It was a fun and partially frozen experience…

By the way, high wind advisories are still in effect throughout Romania. Meteorologists are saying that some regions are expected to have winds up to 60-70 km/h. Should be interesting!

An evening walk through Sibiu’s historical center

Here are a few photos from a recent visit to Sibiu, where we walked through the two main piazzas in its historical center.